Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Red Coals”

William Woolfitt is the author of Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, 2016). His poems and stories have appeared in Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blackbird, and other journals. He is an assistant professor of English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Red Coals

1874: Paris, France

Grandfather hands me over to Saint Geneviève School,
the Jesuits. I fail my classes, write letters begging him
to let me come home, thirty pages or more.
The fathers freeze us all day, then gorge the stoves
with coal at bedtime, to stew us while we dream.

All the boys sweat beneath scratchy coverlets,
snug as dough in loaf pans, coverlets piled
like stones on the chest of Saint Victor.
Red-faced, I toss while I sleep, taste salt
when I lick the back of my hand.

We may not open windows, all the better to burn
the sin-inventing devils out of us. The fathers insist
they will straighten me. They apply fire, hammer,
and tongs until I take a new shape,
until I am molten, malleable, aglow.